For decades, Pairs and Spares dancing at the Rasmussen Senior Center has been the place for those of a certain age to kick up their heels, enjoy live music and spend time with friends. On Dec. 29, though, the men and women will gather for one last dance.
Once a hot spot for senior dancers, Pairs and Spares has seen a decrease in attendance and can't afford to keep the gathering going. Although rent has remained fair, dance leaders said, too few people go to cover the cost.
"As you can imagine, older people get older and they go away," said H.T. "Bud" Stone, Pairs and Spares president. "We do not have enough new people coming in. We don't have enough people to sustain the cost of operation."
Although there was a smile on most dancing faces on a recent Friday night — it's hard not to smile when you're doing something you love, after all — Stone said the people gathered were all disappointed to see Pairs and Spares come to an end.
"It's sad," said Carol Anderson, a second-generation Pairs and Spares member whose mother was in the group in its early days. "It's a place where people would come and check on each other, and if you didn't see someone, usually someone would call. It's an extended family."
There were about 40 people there that night, but in its heyday there would be 150 on a slow night, Anderson said. As The CRS Riders performed songs like "All My Ex's Live in Texas" and "Oh Lonesome Me," the men and women got up to dance or stayed at their table to chat. Some switched partners throughout the night, making sure everyone had somebody to dance with, a tradition as long as the group's history. And some reflected on what the end of this group means.
There's little official history on the long-running dance group, origins and stories passed on from one generation of members to another, with just photos and old newsletters saved in memory books. There would be more of those memory books if some hadn't been carelessly tossed by someone who happened upon them at the center, Anderson said.
Pairs and Spares started in the late 1960s and was chartered in the 1970s. Though the Rasmussen Senior Center has long been its home, the dancing predates it. In fact, money raised from early Pairs and Spares dances helped build the center, Stone said. Before it was built, dancers met at Riverview Community Center.
"They've been dancing every night since then," said Stone, who considers himself a late-comer as he's only been a member for the last eight years.
Anderson recalled her mother first coming to the center to dance because she wanted to see her friend Red Simpson perform. Over the years, her mother made friends with the other dancers, ones who became a great comfort to her when her husband (Anderson's father) died in the early 1990s. A few years later, Anderson started working at the center and observed all the Friday night fun. Naturally, she later joined the group herself.
"The floor was full," Anderson said. "There was just lots of energy and laughter. Everybody went home feeling good."
Four set bands played once a month, depending on the week: Jeri Arnold and Ed Shelton & The All Stars on the first Friday of the month, followed by Country George & The Western Edition on the second, The CRS Riders on the third and The Tommy Hays Band on the fourth. When a month had five Fridays, The Western Connection would play.
"We choose to have a live band," Anderson said. "Seniors don't want to dance to a DJ."
The music played is typically country-western, with dancers doing everything from waltzes, two-step, 10-step and some "pretty good swing, believe it or not," Stone said.
Suzanne Crawford, who moved to town from Cincinnati about two and a half years ago, joined the group just a few months ago after hearing about it from her friend Walter Chavira, who she met at the Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired.
"I haven't been coming for long, but I'm going to miss it," Crawford said. "I was just beginning to recognize people ... I tell (Walter) all the time, it's opened my life."
In the short time that she's been coming, Crawford has quickly become a regular.
"I loved it, other than not loving country music!" Crawford said, describing herself as a rock 'n' roll girl from the '60s. "I've danced with a couple men for the first time since my husband died. I'd gotten rusty, but I've gotten better."
Larry Curnow and his wife, Susan, have been coming to Pairs and Spares for two years, he said. The two are avid dancers and have been in one group or another for about 17 years.
"The thing I enjoy most is the live music," he said. "It's one of the few places to go and hear live music."
In addition to the dancing, the camaraderie has been another draw for the members.
"It's a very nice place to come," said Jo Nash, who has been coming to Pairs and Spares off and on since 1986. "People seem to enjoy each other."
"These people have a real caring for each other," said Judy Evans. "They know if someone's sick, they check in on friends."
Although those who attend the dances love it, there just aren't enough them to keep it going. Anderson hypothesized that social media has played some role in the decrease in attendance, since people don't really need to leave the house to check up on friends.
"I don't think younger people commit, they have so much to do," Anderson said, speaking of those just entering their senior years. "Their friends are on Facebook. The technology — I think that's the biggest thing."
Anderson said the Rasmussen Senior Center has "just been as accommodating as they could be," but its expenses have risen over the years too. The group considered meeting less frequently, she said, but the costs would remain virtually the same with fewer days to recoup the expense.
While the Pairs and Spares dancing will come to an end, some members will find other places to dance. Anderson likes the Crystal Palace ("Even though it's a bar, it's still a nice place to go to listen to music.") The Curnows will move on to a new Argentine tango club. Others, like Crawford, might stay in touch through lunch and other events at the Rasmussen Senior Center.
But there's still one more dance to go. And while there might very well be tears, there will still be smiles, music and dancing.